“Inspire us with the spleen of fiery dragons”
~Richard III (Act 5, v 3)~
It’s the year of the dragon. This is one of the most revered years of the Chinese calendar, and those born under the sign are regarded as innovative, passionate people who are colourful, confident and fearless. Unlike the demon that gets slayed in Western literature, the Dragon is a symbol of good fortune, intense power and good luck in Eastern culture. Dragon years are also popular to have babies. You have been warned.
My colleagues and I welcomed the new year with a trip to the Noodle Bar. It was a good excuse to let our hair down, have a good laugh and blow away the winter blues. The restaurant was packed but we still managed to get a table. I ordered my usual fried udon with seafood special and Chinese vegetables washed down with steaming cups of Chinese cha. We also requested yummy steamed prawn dumplings for starters. We’d a wonderful time, catching up with the latest gossips. What a great way to start the new year.
I also baked Chinese New year cookies for my colleagues. This was the first time I made them and it turned out perfect. I was chuffed to bits.
Chinese New Year Cookies (aka Kuih Bangkit)
225g tapioca flour
65g icing sugar
1 egg yolk
75-90ml coconut milk
a pinch of salt
Line bowl with greaseproof paper.
Microwave flour on high 1 min. at a time for 5 times, stirring every minute.
Set aside and cool completely before using.
Cream margarine with sugar and egg yolk.
Add in coconut milk and mix well.
Add flour and knead until a non-stick dough is formed.
If too dry, add coconut milk, a teaspoon at a time.
Rest covered with a damp cloth.
Take a quarter of dough and roll on a floured top 1 cm thick.
Cut into shapes with a cookie cutter.
Bake on lined tray in pre-heated oven at 180C for 15 minutes.
Taste one and it should melt in the mouth.
If not, bake another 5 minutes. Cookie should not be brown.
(This is my 2nd batch and I added pink food colouring).
To continue with my Chinese theme, I was allocated a group of students from the University of Beijing on my first library tour of the year. As usual, I greeted them with a few Mandarin words to welcome them which was greatly appreciated. ( Note to myself : I need to learn more Mandarin words). I showed them the different study areas in the library, which floors they can bring a drink and the silent study areas. Showing them how to access the mobile units was always the highlight. On the ground floor, I demonstrated how to use the self service check-out and returns. It was always lovely to take an enthusiastic group of students around the library and I hoped they enjoyed their stay here in the university.
It was also the annual One World Week, the "World's Largest Student Run International Event", an entirely student-run, non-profit initiative. It aims to stimulate personal development and inspire a view based on acceptance and appreciation of the World's Mosaic of Cultures, encouraging awareness of and positive action on issues which affect our world. The nine-day event extravaganza was the pinnacle of the international experience at the University and consists of a variety of interactive celebrations in four elements: Forum, Sports, Festival and Nights. During the course, the campus comes alive with debates and discussions, parades and performances and a large host of sports and games. I only managed to check out some of the sessions during my lunch break. In my opinion, compared to the previous years, it was quite subdued. I am also reading Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (ELIC) by Jonathan Safran Foer for my upcoming book club. I have missed so many meetings because of my work-load and ill-health. I’m determined to attend this. ELIC was narrated by a ten year old Oskar Schell who was in a desperate attempt to cope with the depression and grief (Oskar called it heavy boots) of losing his father in the 9-11 twin towers disaster. Haunted by 6 messages left on the answering machine while his father was being incinerated, Oskar embarked on a quest to solve the mystery of a fat and short key found in an envelope marked ‘Black’ in a blue vase on the highest shelf in his father’s closet.
ELIC took me on a grand tour of New York’s 5 boroughs as Oskar attempted to interview every New Yorker named Black. As he roamed the city, he met an assortment of humanity including a war reporter who keeps a biographical index of the people he met and catalogued them into a single word filing card. The ones that made me smile was Tom Cruise (money) and Marilyn Monroe (sex). Another was a tour guide who never leaves the Empire State Building.
There were also 2 additional narrators. Oskar’s grandfather who mysteriously loses the power of speech and communicates only by writing. A “yes” was written on the palm of his left hand and a “no” on the other. A survivor of the Dresden bombing, he returned to Germany before Oskar’s father was born and became ‘the renter” in Oskar’s grandmother’s house when he found out that his son had died. Oskar’s grandmother is blind and types hundreds of pages of her life story onto a ribbonless typewriter. It was for Oskar and recounted her German childhood and her adult life with and without her husband.
I found these alternating narrations (in epistle form) irritating and found myself wanting to flip through the pages. I wanted to be with Oskar and his quest. The search for the lock kept the story moving. I was as curious as him about finding what the key opens. But the end left me bitterly disappointed. Oskar finally found the owner of the key, William Black. Oskar went with him to the bank to open a safe deposit box. But I still don’t know what had William Black ‘s father left him? This was left out. Why??? Anyway, Oskar ended his journey where it began, at his father’s grave. He was accompanied by “the renter” They dug up the empty coffin and the “renter” filled it with autobiographical apologetic letters.
At first, I thought that Foer was hopping on a global tragedy. After I’d read the book, 9/11 was actually a smokescreen. It was a good read and I couldn’t wait for the discussions. The book was made into a film starring Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock and Thomas Horn as Oskar. Will I watch It? Hmm…I don’t think so although it might be interesting how the director interpret all the flashbacks and narrations. And maybe, I might know what was in the safe deposit box :-).
We didn’t celebrate Burn’s night this year. I took the day off to accompany Babe to the spanking new City of Coventry Health Centre for blood tests. Babe had been complaining of difficulties in swallowing for the past week. The lovely doctor diagnosis was an infection but she wanted to be sure. Babe had already been fasting but by the time we got to there, 100 people were already in the queue. It was going to be a very looong wait and then he will be fasting for more than 12 hours which will be harmful to his health. We decided to come another day and timed it correctly.
I have a rant about hospital parking charges. It was £1 an hour and it was pay and display. How on earth do patients know the length of their stay? Why not pay when you exit? People go to hospital for a reason. They are either ill or visiting someone who is ill. Why are we burdening them again??? Breathe in and out s-l-o-w-l-y.
After a light lunch, we went into the city-centre to do the car tax. We parked above the market and had a leisurely walk towards the main post-office situated in WH Smiths in the West Orchards Shopping Centre. I gave myself a treat and had my eyebrows threaded. With my perfectly-shaped eyebrows, I’m ready to face the world :-). We checked out Peacocks which was under administration. Another name about to bite the dust. I bought a pair of red pants and a striped cardigan as a reminder (!) if the shop disappeared from the high street.
Saturday was spent digging up the garden!!! I’m making a raised bed out of a bookshelf that we can’t put up in the casa. So I decided to recycle it. Instead of standing upright, it was now laying down. I’ve cleared the weeds and grass, dug up the soil, use the shelves as borders and filled in home-made composts. I’m soo excited and couldn’t wait to start growing something. I’m planning to fill the beds with different kinds of salad, tomatoes, broccoli, pak-choi, corn, beans, radishes…Ooh…I’m salivating.
I’m sure my neighbours will think I’m a bit loco because their gardens are very pristine and mowed perfectly. Mine will be like a mini Malaysian jungle :-). We left the edges to the left and the top in its original state ie full of shrubs, hedges, ivy, elderberry bushes and leylandi hedges To the right, along the fences, I’ve planted 3 different Buddleas or Butterfly plant and Cytisus. I’m thinking of adding raspberries next. I’ve also planted 2 different climbing roses near the arch. It is going to be a very colourful summer. Did I say summer??? It’s not even spring yet and the weathermen are forecasting for snow. Yaay…bring it on. I want that fluffy white stuff to fall so bad.
On Sunday, we stretched our legs at our favourite playground. We met M who informed us that K’s dad had died just before Christmas. Our condolences to both of them. We exchanged news while walking towards the hide. At Baldwin Hide, we spotted the Great Crested Grebes out and about. The Goldeneye was floating at the end of the lake. We then went to check what was about at East Marsh Hide. There was a pair of sleeping widgeons, a Shelduck, a handsome male pheasant and we counted at least 7 snipes huddled on the opposite banks. Since they were quite far away, check out this amazing photograph that Babe took earlier in the week of a Snipe feeding. We left when the weather began to plummet.
Before I log off, I would like to wish a very good friend in Malaysia, CYH, a very happy birthday.
Wishing you the very best in the years to come. May your days be filled with bright sunshine and beautiful colours, and may your nights be filled with comforting dreams and wonderful wishes.
Many things have changed over the years but you are still the lovely person you have always been.
May Allah bless you always.